As the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Ahmednagar district for the last 10 years, Sudhakar Kurhade has a tough task — keeping an eagle eye on an area of 17,413 sq km, the largest district of Maharashtra.
Day or night, rain or shine, he is on the vigil to implement conservation methods for wandering wildlife. Human-leopard conflict is a ticklish issue in the region and he is constantly in touch with locals and forest department authorities, as time is of the essence to mitigate people and animal anguish.
His experience of nearly 40 years in botany, zoology, ornithology and entomology makes him one of the best in the field for Nature surveillance and wildlife management.
When Kurhade was bestowed with the title of Honorary Wildlife Warden for Ahmednagar District by the Government of Maharashtra, his family and friends were extremely pleased.
The position of a warden is given to individuals with determination and devotion for the cause of wildlife and its well-being. “My hard work of nearly 40 years for the cause of flora and fauna has paid off,” said Kurhade while delivering a lecture on June 5, World Environment Day, at Ahmednagar.
Honorary Wildlife Wardens across the country are not paid any regular salary nor listed on the payrolls of the forest department. Nevertheless, they have an authorised status as they are the interface between the government and the local community. Being opinion leaders in their region, they have ample influence and their judgement benefits the denizens of the district. For Kurhade, it is joy doubled as he goes about his regular job as professor in a college and also fulfils his duties as a wildlife warden.
Snapshots of struggle, success
The journey was not simple, recalls Kurhade. “I was born in a middle-class family at Shevgaon where my father was an office clerk in the judicial department with the Government of Maharashtra. Later, he was reassigned to the small town of Newasa and finally settled down in the district headquarters of Ahmednagar. Transfers and shifting lock, stock, and barrel were not easy as we were five siblings and too young to understand the hardships of my parents. My father and mother had to bear the brunt as they struggled to bring us up with all possible comforts and adequate education, on a meagre salary.”
As a BSc student in the 1980s, Kurhade used to earn money by making handwritten copies of documents since technology then was rudimentary and Xerox machines were unheard of.
Stitching handwritten notepads and books for documentation was also his forte as his Marathi handwriting was good. His father, working at the courts, was happy getting forms and factsheets, made by magistrates, packaged. With his hard-earned pocket money Kurhade purchased an Agfa-Isoly-III, the first Indian small camera, and this opened a world of wonders for the young man.
Slowly and steadily, he also learnt how to process and print black & white films in the darkroom of a local studio. In 1985, he even managed to hold the first photographic exhibition on the monuments and environment in Ahmednagar, which received rave reviews.
He became popular in town and on completion of BSc Zoology in Ahmednagar with distinction, pursued MSc in Entomology, a rare subject in those days. With these credentials, he was offered the job of a part-time lecturer at a salary of ₹700 in the local college as there were very few people with such scholastic skills in Ahmednagar. Later, he became a full-time lecturer and also completed his PhD in insect taxonomy.
The turning point
The mid-1980s was the turning point when the combination of youth, enthusiasm and regular salary enabled Kurhade to realise his ambition to become a professional nature conservationist.
His voracious reading, coupled with interest in wildlife photography, helped him embark on an ecological journey; There was no looking back as he explored 500-year-old Ahmednagar like there was no tomorrow.
He keenly observed butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers and their fascinating lifecycles. Merely collating checklists of insects, birds and plants did not satisfy him and he began to ensure people’s involvement to understand the why and how of countryside conservation.
His devoted workmate was — and still is — the Bajaj Cub Scooter, a workhorse purchased in 1984 to travel across the district, clocking nearly one lakh km over the years. Constant encouragement from BK Kulkarni, a keen birder, writer and friend, and inspiration from his wife, Sandhya, and daughters, Sayalee and Apoorva, helped him venture into unknown territories of natural history.
His practical knowledge helped him write over 230 articles, 65 research papers and 15 books on nature conservation. His articles in Marathi newspapers, on bird studies and the importance of insects, are keenly followed by readers as they are published with illustrative snapshots.
His favourite insect is the painted grasshopper, which is vanishing because its host plant, Calotropis, which grows in the wild, is disappearing due to overuse. To encourage the people of Ahmednagar to protect insects, he circulated a booklet in Marathi explaining the benefits of insects and their vital role in pollination.
He also undertook a survey to select the city’s bird. Joining hands with district authorities, he conducted an election in Ahmednagar with ballot paper and a specially designed app for online voting.
There were six nominations — Purple Sunbird, Small Kingfisher, Golden Oriole, Blue flycatcher, Coppersmith barbet and Hoopoe . The winner was the Blue Kingfisher, designated as the City Bird of Ahmednagar and announced by the District Magistrate at a public function on November 12, 2018.
Asked what’s on his agenda next, Kurhade says, “I will be retiring next year and my future plans are to create a Nature Conservation Centre in Ahmednagar and inspire youngsters to devote their time, money and energy for the voiceless wildlife. People’s participation is important and I intend to implement massive native tree planting at the onset of monsoon to increase the dwindling tree cover in the arid district of Ahmednagar.”
He says the focus will be ecological restoration and maintaining the natural wealth of Kalsubai-Harischandragad Wildlife Sanctuary, Nandur Madhmeshwar Bird Sanctuary and Jayakwadi Bird Sanctuary.
“My vast network of contacts and informers is an advantage to keep tabs on the seasonal happenings with flora and fauna,” he points out.
He signs off saying, “I want to leave behind a rich collection of educational and research material on judicious ecological conservation methods for future generations.”
The writer is a wildlife enthusiast and photographer based in Noida